Advancing Underwater Optical Communications Technology via Demonstration Projects for Students, Researchers and Maritime Forces through Partnerships between Government and Industry

Philip Andrew McGillivary1, Ved Chirayath2, Alexander Bahr3, Felix Schill3, Igor Martin3, Liz Taylor4 and Robert Havens5, (1)US Coast Guard Ice Breaker Operations, Alameda, CA, United States, (2)NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (3)Hydromea, Lausanne, Switzerland, (4)DOER Marine, Alameda, CA, United States, (5)Tinuron Subsea, New York, United States
Optical communications offer the potential for high data rate undersea communications. In ports and under ice where acoustic communication methods are problematic, optical modems are an important communication option. Optical modem technology was developed for deep sea ecosystems. Recently, optical modem technologies for use in full sunlight for coastal marine applications have been commercialized. These modems are small and power efficient, and so can be used for a variety of applications. For federal agencies charged with maritime surveillance to secure ports, or responding to an under-ice oil spill, high bandwidth optical communications offer an important operational capability. As optical modem technology advances, it benefits from demonstration projects at venues that include a mix of graduate students, academics and maritime defense personnel. To provide a demonstration of an optical modem communication system in a situation simulating a cabled ocean observing system node exchanging data with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), we undertook a partnership with optical modem makers, companies involved in field deployment of AUVs, and government scientists. An initial choice of demonstration venue has been the European marine robotics ‘Breaking the Surface’ Conference, limited to 100 participants, half academic or government/industry, and half graduate students. This provides demonstrations for not only the next generation of oceanographers, but also faculty supervisors, government users, and technologists in related ocean industries. A second demonstration venue has been the NATO CMRE Workshop on Military Applications of Underwater Glider Technology (WMAUGT), reaching personnel responsible for application of new operationally relevant technologies.

Looking ahead, patented technology developed at NASA has significantly resolved issues of surface wave caustics to permit optical data transmission from an AUV through the sea surface to aircraft in full sunlight. This technology is available for license by optical modem manufacturers and will give them a commercial advantage. The partnership between government and ocean industry also opens SBIRs and several other venues for funding this future development, which are also discussed.